Thursday, July 2, 2009

Idea Spawned by a Rules Oddity

OD&D is rightfully known as being sparse when it comes to both details and its rules. When those two categories of sparseness come together, it sometimes leads to head scratching. A good case in point is this cryptic statement from Volume 1 of the three little brown books: "Note that clerics of 7th level and greater are either 'Law' or 'Chaos,' and there is a sharp distinction between them." (And before anyone points this out, yes, I know this version of the lines comes from a later printing, one that post-dates the supplements, but bear with me here). This implies to me that, in OD&D, Neutral is not a valid alignment for a cleric, at least not one who wishes to get far in his hierarchy and command great powers. AD&D specifically excludes True Neutral as an alignment option for clerics. Greyhawk introduced druids as a monster type and notes that they're "priests of a neutral-type" religion. Eldritch Wizardry opens them up as a player character option, but limits them to the neutral alignment.

Taken together, it's all very suggestive, as if there were some kind of specific understanding of alignment at work here. I know that's probably not true at all, but it doesn't change the suggestiveness of it all -- a suggestiveness that Frank Mentzer spun in a very interesting way in his edition of the D&D rules. His Companion Rules druid is a kind of "proto-prestige class" that's parasitic upon the cleric class. Druids are Neutral clerics who abandon their old faith and embrace the ways of Nature. in the process shedding some old abilities (like turning undead) and acquiring new ones (such as new spells). I think Mentzer's druid is a riff off the old OD&D rules about clerical alignment and I've always rather liked it. In Dwimmermount, druids -- and Nature -- stand outside the battles of Law and Chaos. Consequently, they're generally regarded with suspicion by most folk, particularly those siding with Law, since they have a "with us or against us" mentality.

I haven't yet introduced any druids into my campaign and may never do so. Still, I have been thinking about them and what their class will be like. It'll certainly be based heavily on the Supplement III version of the class, but there's a big part of my that really likes the notion of druids as made up entirely of formerly Lawful or Chaotic clerics who've abandoned their old faiths and adopted a new one. There's something very Moorocockian -- something very rebellious -- about this approach that appeals to me. The trick, though, is to ensure that the druids never come across as hippy-dippy, kumbaya types. I frankly hate that conception of the druids and it's certainly not one that belongs in a setting that takes its cues from swords-and-sorcery. Instead, the druids will indeed have a certain nobility to them, one that's mixed in with a certain cruelty and inhumanity. These are people, after all, who turned their backs not only on the gods but on humanity as well, throwing their lot in with insensate Nature, which cares not for the fate of neither men nor mankind. It's a harsh, unmerciful philosophy and Law has good reason to view it as every much as big a threat as Chaos.


  1. But if all druids are former clerics, who taught the first druids the ways of the nature spirits?

  2. I like the notion that druids are about "a certain cruelty and inhumanity".

    If you think about it, Yog-Sothoth and Azathoth? True Neutral.

    (Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu exist a little closer to the human scale so I'm not so sure about them.)

    Evil--at least in AD&D terms--tends to be moustache-twirling, cackling sadism. But True Neutral? Terrifying, dead-eyed, ice-cold killers.


  3. I always thought the idea of alignment in D&D was inextricably bound up with politics. Evil and Good both serve powers on other planes; Neutral does not. Your research only cements that idea.

    Good is, in part, defined by serving the cause of certain deities, and Evil is serving the cause of other deities. Druids are neutral because they don't care about deities: they only care about the world they live in. This makes the enemy, or least not the friend, of both Good and Evil.

    The problem with D&D alignments is not the political binding: it is that the politics are never explained. What, exactly, is the cause of Good? What is Evil striving to achieve?

    In my game-world I've created a political basis for the distinction between Good and Evil, a kind of Cosmic Congress in which people's votes, and therefore allegiances, matter. However, this means that Druids, rather than being Neutral, are any alignment: their distinguishing characteristic is that they don't serve extra-planar deities, but rather the plane of Prime itself.

    I also mapped the alignments into modern psychological moral levels of development, because it makes adjudicating behavior a lot easier.

    If that sounds at all interesting, I go on at length here:

  4. It's a harsh, unmerciful philosophy and Law has good reason to view it as every much as big a threat as Chaos.

    Yes. I've never much liked the idea of Druids being a PC class for this very reason (though they make brilliant monsters). They've abandoned both civilization and God in favor of the fallen world ruled by death and sin. As such, they've embraced the role of killer/hunter/dealer of death. Since their moral compass is determined by fallen nature...there is no end to what they will do to protect what is theirs. Terrifying, dead-eyed, ice-cold killers indeed.

  5. Well, I still think the "prestige class" approach is strange, but your approach to it is interesting, and it seems to make sense within the cosmological environment Dwimmermount exists in.

  6. A great post, and I find it very appealing, also.

  7. I like your conception of druids vis-aivis Law and Chaos, and it's one I share. I long ago rejected the "druids as tree huggers" concept and presented them instead as much more harsh and uncaring - cruel in the eyes of townsfolk. I'll be interested to see what you come up with for your version.

  8. I've always tended to view druids as cold, uncaring of the ways of humanity, mysterious, and remote. You pretty much summed up how I view them very well.

  9. Getting on to the actual discussion, my druids are somewhere in the middle. A druid in my worlds respects and reveres all life, bringing death to that which cannot survive, and to that which cannot be allowed to survive. Beyond that tenet, a Druid's beliefs and personality can be as variable from one to the next as the weather from one day to the next.

  10. I always liked druids and saw them in a sort of 'followers of the old gods' or spirits way... more pre-classical/pre-christian north european shamanism. I certainly never saw anything hippy about them...the spirits/gods they believe in are indifferent to man at best but more often than not cruel and harsh and the elements are theirs. Man is at their mercy. Only the druids with their knowledge of these gods and spririts can attempt to appease them...through offerings and sacrifice.

    Just my take...

  11. Well, if you're characterizing Druids by their relationship with the natural world, then Neutral works as an alignment because Nature is (supposedly) balanced between Law and Chaos: on butterfly's wings etc (on the other hand, strictly speaking, anything that happens in nature/the world is "natural").

    But then where might the idea of entropy fit in?

    For a more detailed version of Celtic Druids I have to reiterate my recommendation for Norman Spinrad's "The Druid King".

    So do those of you equating Druids with human sacrifices etc regard, say Aztec priests as Druids? Or ancient Roman priests?

    Where does Getafix fit in? : )

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  13. So do those of you equating Druids with human sacrifices etc regard, say Aztec priests as Druids? Or ancient Roman priests?

    As pre-christian/pre-classical north european shaman types I would regard any of the pre-colombian shamanistic religions as druidic in nature. But the classical gods of Rome and Greece are much less 'elemental' or nature-based and so, imho, wouldn't really fit my view of druidic.

  14. Sorry...I'm not making much sense. I really should stop posting things when I'm tired.

    What I mean is that I see druids as north european shaman types but any shamnistic type of religion (north european or not) would work well as a template for druids imho.

  15. I like the description of Druids' ethics in the Companion set; they won't be friends of characters just because they show piety for a wounded animal, for example. Neither they will be friends of characters who help push civilisation by destroying forests. Nor they will be enemies of chaotic races if they do not destroy Nature.
    Druids seem concerned about things on a grander scale than clerics do, where the struggles of Law and Chaos are only "accidents".

  16. These are people, after all, who turned their backs not only on the gods but on humanity as well, throwing their lot in with insensate Nature, which cares not for the fate of neither men nor mankind. It's a harsh, unmerciful philosophy and Law has good reason to view it as every much as big a threat as Chaos.

    Nietzschean druids? That has possibilities...

  17. Mr. Maliszewski,

    Your posts, as always, are highly entertaining reads, this latest being no exception.

    May I suggest an alternative approach to the construction of the Druid? Why not get back to the original histories, myths and legends that inspired the class of the Druids in OD&D?

    One of the most interesting, and perhaps even historically accurate, discoveries made in recent years (the 1920s) is that the Druids were either the descendants of, or were heavily influenced by, Buddhist monks of the Indian ruler, Ashoka the Great.

    Although Buddhism is probably best described as a "good" alignment, it seeks to transcend the material world, including the concepts of good and evil (although it still makes PLENTY of value judgments). Perhaps the Druid's classification as Neutral reflects a belief of the original author in the similarities between Buddhism and the Druidism?

    Indeed, the description of true Neutral in the Player's handbook suggests this is true: it's like they were attempting to describe the concept of karma.

    Furthermore, the Druid's supposed powers of transformation were suggested as being derived from the Buddhists' belief in reincarnation as lower order creatures as reward for a low karma. It also seems to be the source behind the conceptualization as the Druid as a guardian, or being, of nature.

    I would say that the most appropriate construction of the Druid was in the Temple of Elemental Evil, where it was represented as an old faith, crumbling away because of its inherent flakiness and inability to effect change upon a rapidly changing world.

  18. No matter how you interpret the Druid, "tree hugging hippy," mysterious seer, "tough-love" philosopher, one must keep in mind that the Druid is still a priest. As a priest, it is the Druid's responsibility to act as a go-between between man or tribe and the mysterious powers that move the universe. Regardless of the nature and source of those powers or what those powers might require of the Druid, as a priest the Druid must still service the tribe or man hence why he gets cure light wounds, cure disease, etc. as spells. It would be impossible for the Druid to completely turn his back on humanity and still be a priest as it is the priest's duty by very definition to serve both man and diety.

    James's interpretation of a Druid as a person who placates dark and mysterious powers with no connection to humanity at all should be a subclass of the magic user rather than a cleric as it is more reminiscent of the conjurer who placates spirits in return for personal power, though in the Druid's case the spirits will be spirits of neutrality rather than the spirits of chaos summoned by the Conjurer.

  19. The alien life form saving, human life sacrificing scientist in the original The Thing is the true Druid in D&D terms. The historic Druids of the PreChristian Britain were a religion that had more to do with mnemonics and Quoran-like recitation of sacred texts, than anything dreamt up by the neopagans or the fantasy writers. True, Druids worshipped at sacred groves and served the community by healing livestock (historically, ability to shepherd lifestock, animal husbandry, and ability to slaughter it made for the coldest and cruelest raiders and Empire builders such as Assyrians and Mongols - those nomads had a conception of humanity that was an extension of their flocks - you can prune it by slaughter where needs be). Anyway, historical Druids were a secret siciety that used human sacrifice to both keep its members in line and keep the population in check. Because of their underworld-like influence, Romans utterly destroyed them as a popilatiomna and as an organisation, and since their religion was oral. Their rites and knowledge are gone, except that they seemed to have been engaged in extenive word games and poetic contests, where the loser got sacrificed (a la ball games of the Mayans). So, historic Druids would have something akin to the AD&D bards, and I can live with the AD&D conceptualization of the Druid as nature priests/Shamans (their spells have more in common with Shamans that do AD&D Barbarian shamans and witch doctors).

  20. The connection with druids is probably also why Irish poet/bards were originally the judges/lawyers of their society.

    Which is a plenty scary thought.

    The power was taken away from them because they kept making too many rulings based on puns in the old poetic dialect, or that nobody could understand because they were too convoluted.

    Of course, our society has nothing like the latter. :)